Mapping Time and Everything: Will Google Also Map History?

The video below showcases an innovative way of visualizing empires balance of powers over time. The visualization technique used here is an interesting one to solve the very old issue of time representation. It gives the “big picture” of a timeline, instead of painfully trying to connect layers of flat information that take a lot of time to learn and process one by one. Animated timelines putting the emphasis on relative evolutions contextualize better and are then a great way to understand history and geography of the world.

 Some earlier attempts to map time on a two-dimensional static sheet of paper deserve a mention. The John B. Sparks Histomap (below), from the Rand McNally first version printed in 1931, did a great job at offering a synthesis of civilization evolution over time. It highlights the balance of powers, allows to easily visualize who were the world leaders at a specific time. It opened new perspectives on the way events and civilizations should be taught and studied: relatively to one another, both over time and at a “t” moment.

histomap_01 histomap_02 histomap_03 histomap_04

The mapping of events over time is also the mapping of events over space (and the other way around). What the author of the video above and the histomap maker did is to offer a way to visualize, all at once, time and space. As both history and geography have been limited by their traditional media – the timeline excludes space, the map excludes time – this appears like a revolution.

Once again, the hardest thing was to think outside of the box (of classical fields of study and their traditions) at least once. With today’s information technologies, open data and all the possibilities coding opens, it is likely that more complex, interactive and exhaustive versions of time and space mapping will emerge. Pretty much all data about major historical events are available on the internet already.

Will Google one day launch a time mapping project to connect every event to every other event in the world, so we can browse the globe by year, month, day in the past and see the when, the what, the where and the “what it is related and connected to what” – both in time & space – all at once? Will we be able to select variables such as “diplomacy”, “politics”, “economy”, “sport” and see the dots and areas of relevant events moving at the surface of the globe, with lines pointing to every other related events (elsewhere and at other times – in the past and the future), to have an exhaustive vision on causal links? 

I don’t how how much Google cares about history, but judging by the 2 million views the video above got, as well as the dozen of articles major US and UK media wrote about the histomap recently, there is no doubt people will watch for this possible revolution, whether it comes from Google or not. I just really would  like to be there (in the right space-time) to see it happen.

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One great read on time mapping:

Cartographies of Time – A History of the Timeline


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